Gas is losing ground; electric power can be generated on a small scale, and even water treatment can be decentralised. Following introduction of legislation in the Netherlands under which grid managers and providers are separated, a number of new challenges have arisen. These challenges have presented former utility companies with several strategic issues.
What role will the existing infrastructure take on? How do investments need to be channelled? And – a question that’s at least as relevant – who will manage maintenance and updates?
Issues facing utility companies:
- How do we keep the infrastructure network profitable?
- What investments and/or disposals are essential?
- What can we do about the rapidly aging technical staff?
How do we keep the distribution network exploitable?
The need for gas following the closing of more and more domestic gas wells will be met by Russian gas providers. But how wise is it to invest in enrichment facilities in the face of a grim political reality and the demand for gas is likely to drop? How can the distribution grid be exploited in the post-gas era?
Innovation creates conflicting usage interests
Salinisation, declining groundwater levels and conflicting usage interests are just some of the issues faced by water companies. Various new underground activities have raised a number of new issues. What is the impact of geothermal systems on the dynamics and quality of the groundwater? Then there are the above-ground challenges: what needs to happen in order to keep both agricultural irrigation and drainage of urban wastewater under control?
Solar panels are becoming more efficient, and local energy storage methods are being introduced. Municipalities and citizens are exploring opportunities to become fully self-sufficient. Will the car provide the home with electric power? Will peaks in the power grid be prevented through the use of a battery? These developments are occurring at a fast pace, and traditional parties are not necessarily involved in this innovation.
Lack of technical staff
Demographic aging and a decline in the number of technical employees have resulted in staff shortages. This has delayed the completion of new developments and has made it more important than ever to schedule maintenance efficiently. Various companies have expanded their training and education activities to include in-house training courses.
Flexible technical infrastructure
‘Let the asset sweat’ is a frequently heard answer to challenges related to the infrastructure network. But even a wait-and-see attitude requires innovative support. A transition from time-based or condition-based maintenance to risk-based maintenance strategies is inevitable. A flexible technical infrastructure reduces pressure on staff, along with expenses. This, in turn, provides the room to come up with solutions to other challenges.